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Can Hampton Creek reengineer the egg?

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Did you have eggs for breakfast this morning? Chances are you did in some shape or form. Of the 1.8 trillion eggs that go into production every year, one third are used as an invisible ingredient, meaning they are simply used for their function in a recipe.

Eggs might not be the most glamorous ingredient in the pantry, but they are one of the most versatile. They are the emulsifier in Hollandaise sauce. The binding agent in meatloaf. The leavening agent in meringue. In all, eggs perform 22 functions in cooking and baking.

“People aren't eating that muffin at Starbucks, because they want the egg that is in it,” said Morgan Oliveira, communications director, Hampton Creek. “They just want a yummy muffin! So, we can replace a whole bunch of unsustainable, battery cage eggs with cheaper, healthier plants, and people will never even know.”

Hampton Creek, a San Francisco based food tech startup, is hoping to disrupt the $9 billion egg industry with the introduction of its plant based egg replacement. The underpinnings of the company are altruistic; it wants to bring healthy and affordable food to the masses while creating a safer and more sustainable food system.

The company is part of a wave of food companies focused on the benefits of plant-based foods. Beyond Meat, another startup in the space, has been receiving a lot of buzz for its plant-based meats. And the market for plant-based milks has exploded over the last several years - with the dairy alternative market projected to reach $14 billion by 2018.

Unlike its counterparts though, Hampton Creek is not keen to tout the fact that its products are vegan and non-GMO. “Our target audience is mainstream people - not vegans. In fact, we never, ever, ever say vegan, egg-free, substitute [or] alternative in our messaging. We simply want to bring delicious, healthier and more affordable food to everyone,” said Oliveira.

Back at Hampton Creek's SoMa headquarters, its biochemistry, emulsion and baking teams are working to find the precise plants that can replicate the characteristics of an egg. For the last two years, the company has analyzed thousands of yellow peas and identified 11 that can function like a chicken egg.

One of its earliest successes has been with emulsion, which is a key component in mayonnaise. In April, it rolled out Just Mayo in original, chipotle, garlic and sriracha flavors in Safeway stores nationwide. Its original mayo can also be found in Whole Foods around the country and a limited number of Costco stores.

While the days are still young for Just Mayo, it is already receiving praise within the culinary world. Winner of Top Chef All-Stars and restaurant owner, Richard Blais, is using the product in his new San Diego eatery, Juniper & Ivy.

“At Juniper & Ivy we always strive to find the highest quality ingredients to create the dishes we produce. Hampton Creek’s eggless mayonnaise fits the bill since it’s both a delicious spread and a textural wonder,” said Blais.

Next on the horizon for Hampton Creek is Eat the Dough, an egg-free cookie dough that can be safely eaten raw, but also makes a delicious baked cookie. And perhaps its most ambitious venture yet, it plans to release a standalone egg product, Just Scramble, sometime later this year.

Despite the the goodwill the company has already built, it is no surprise that the egg industry remains unimpressed. Mitch Kanter, PhD. and executive director of the Egg Nutrition Center, commented, "Synthetic plant-based egg replacers are not a novel concept; they have been around for years. And while we recognize the emergence of new egg replacement options, we believe strongly that, for a variety of reasons, the time-tested, all-natural egg remains the best proven option for consumers and foodservice companies alike..."

Hampton Creek might be able to reengineer the egg, but it remains to be seen as to whether the public will embrace it. The true test as to whether it can displace the egg lies in its ability to execute on Just Scramble. While early protypes are promising, the taste and texture are still not an exact substitute for chicken eggs.

"Natural eggs are a simple yet important food that, despite any current claims, have yet to be replicated by any product artificially engineered in a laboratory," said Kanter.

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